Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Ghost Brigades (Old Man's War 2#) by John Scalzi review

    THE GHOST BRIGADES is the sequel to John Scalzi's OLD MAN'S WAR and switches from the geriatric seventy-five-year-old recruits to the newborn Special Forces clones who serve ten years from birth in a decanter until they die in combat. This is about as far from an old man's war as you're going to get, which is disappointing since clone armies as a far less innovative subject than the idea of extremely old people fighting aliens. The Republic Commando series by Karen Traviss, for example, handles the subject well.

    Despite this, I very much enjoyed The Ghost Brigades because it was a story which really examined the implications of cloning an army as well as what it must be like to be "decanted" as an adult with all the benefits thereof but no real experiences. The comparison is made to Frankenstein's Monster and several other science fiction stories with a surprising degree of poignancy. Are the Special Forces of the Union nothing more than slaves? If they are slaves, does that mean the cause they fight for is evil? Does any of it matter in the grand scheme of things?

    The premise is a military scientist, Charles Boutin, has turned traitor against humanity. This is surprising as treason is relatively uncommon among species. Races tend to treat each other in the Old Man's War universe only slightly better than in Warhammer 40K. However, Boutin has not only defected but he's done so on the eve of three races forming an alliance to destroy humanity. In order to find out what he's up to, Earth takes his memories and places them in a Special Forces soldier. This doesn't apparently work as memories need sensory triggers so the information is there but the clone has no way to access it.

    What follows is a book following Jared Dirac (the aforementioned clone of Boutin) as he is enlisted in the Special Forces (waste not, want not) and slowly starts to remember his progenitor's secrets. This leads him to discover the reasons for the greatest traitor in history's actions as well as what his endgame is. Jared must tread carefully as he could very easily lose himself in Boutin's memories or get himself killed by his handlers. After all, the only thing worse than a super-genius traitor is a super-genius traitor with a superhuman body.

    I have to say, I really like Scalzi's willingness to deconstruct his own setting as we see him savagely lay into the Colonial Union as well as the "victory at any costs" premise of the original book. One of the best parts of the book is a black ops mission which is the definition of a dirty business. It has a lot more emotion and power to it than anything in Old Man's War itself. I also love the final confrontation between Boutin and Dirac as the two near-identical figures lay out their cards for the other to peruse.

    I enjoyed The Ghost Brigades more than Old Man's War, much to my surprise and will be picking up the next volume of the series. While I miss the original premise of the series, this is very intelligently written sci-fi with a great ending.


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